Month: October 2014

Entry 37: Cthulhu Britannica

My first review of a Cubicle 7 product will start with their opening offering in the Cthulhu Britannica line. This is a collection of five scenarios set in Britain, both in place and mindset, each set in a different era, which is also reflected strongly in their construction. They have a one shot feel, but some can be used as a campaign scenario.

One: Bad Company

We start with Victorian society in the scenario Bad Company by Alan Bligh. A peer of the realm hires the investigators to find his son, who has gone missing under circumstances that risk scandal. As the scenario says, this scenario could be relocated to any time frame and situation where societal standing is of extremely high importance, but is largely dependent on that for the motivations of many of the characters in the scenario.

The son in question, Arthur Sommers, has fallen into the web of a creature preying on the fringes of society, luring young libertines with sex and sensuality, in a culture that hides both to no small extent, and fears scandal more than any monster. The creature posing as a European aristocrat is an inhuman monster, with ties to one of the few of the powerful entities that relates to humanity and humanity’s dark side.

An incidental complication by someone who misunderstands what he knows and hopes to blackmail his way into easy money makes the challenge more than it at first seems. A few ‘non standard’ monsters, with subtexts that evoke the more powerful entity, the players are on a race against time to try to save the young man, though he will not emerge unscathed. An excellent scenario in context, hard to transfer to any other setting, but I highly recommend this one.

Two: Darkness, Descending

We jump to 1930’s England, in a rural village in this scenario by Mike Mason. An archaeological dig with ties to Cyaegha has been compromised by the well-intentioned scientists. The locals are ignorant of the history behind the site, and everyone involved in the story, no matter how their actions have complicated matters, is an innocent at risk in this scenario (well, aside from a possession or two). A good scenario with a hidden ticking clock, it is not my favorite in the collection, but there is nothing wrong it it, it just is overshadowed by others here. IT is a good presentation of the environment and setting, and can be a lot of fun for a group of good roleplayers.

Three: Wrong Turn

John French gives us this scenario set in the near future in a moody and atmospheric piece in which attrition of the investigators because of an ill-defined threat is the course of events. The investigators are a recon team scouting an old radio telescope site for a possible film location.

This scenario is somewhat sandbox in how the keeper chooses to unfold it, but there is a structure of events, and they unfold in three stages. Things move from eerie to threatening to deadly in these stages, and everything unfolds in a somewhat subjective reality that has a resolution that will pretty much guarantee this remains a one shot scenario. It may push the roleplaying skills of some groups, but it is a nice scenario for players wanting a break from an ongoing campaign.

Four: King

This scenario, set in contemporary time is written by Keary Birch, this is the least specifically British of the scenarios in this collection, and one of the most unnerving in some ways. This scenario also stands as a potentially intriguing opening scenario for a group of investigators whose backgrounds don’t seem conducive to the party forming in the first place. It will, however, leave a mark on the party, and may not be to everyone’s tastes. It is recommended as a one shot, but I think that once the party gets to the ‘far side’ of this scenario, the possibility of keeping the players going may be worth bringing up.

The party wake up in a hospital, all of them having been the recipient of some unusual medical treatment, all of them initially equally disadvantaged, unable to see initially. The individuals were not consulted prior to their treatment, are initially ignorant of what has been done to them, and have to gather themselves together and work to escape the facility they are in. The doctor behind their treatment, and his associates, have found their own world a bit complicated by events, and the players have to use their wits to find out what has been done to them, escape the varying threats, and simply escape back to the world they knew before, if not the lives they knew before.

In a slight spoiler, I will state that we have one of those monsters that every keeper seems to love (I know I do), the star vampire, making an appearance, and the bulk of the more human opponents are either Tcho Tcho or Miri nigri, passing for human. This is one of many appearances of the former ‘species’, and as in most appearances, they are at some odds with how they are presented in some other scenarios. I defer to Keeper’s tastes on how they want to address that concern (I think my Keeper’s blog will address that soon), but the Miri nigri are largely under-represented, and this being that character’s origin is incidental to the role in the scenario.

The players getting through this one will find they have been modified in a way that will prove difficult, if not impossible to reverse, so if one does use this as a starting campaign, those adjustments will be part of ongoing play, both pro and con.

Five: My Little Sister Wants you to Suffer

This scenario is set in the future, postulated as a possible near future in some senses, in a far distant one in other senses (I will explain what I can without going into major spoilers here). It is described as an End Times scenario, but is not a part of the End Time setting, just more a matter of a point of view when our culture has reached a stage where it can permit something like the events of the scenario playing out. This scenario is written by Paul Fricker, and is designed as a one shot. In theory it could launch a campaign, but the flavor of the campaign would likely change almost immediately after this scenario.

The name of the scenario will only make sense at the end of play, and when it does, will be an obvious ‘in joke’ to the players, based on a current cultural phenomenon in ‘reality television’. The players wake with no memories of how they arrived in their initial situation, waking from suspended animation on board a spaceship that appears to have been launched in an attempt to escape some horrible disaster on Earth. The players begin with vague knowledge of self (to the point that the character sheets are not distributed at the start of play), and they have to piece some things together as they go.

They gradually gain knowledge of themselves and their lives, but in this very linear game, reality proves even more subjective than in almost any other scenario you will ever read. The players will face multiple crises on ship, mutants, infection, ship damage, and a cascading series of events that will turn the players against each other in a brutal struggle of survival where not all can survive, and the players have to decide who lives, and how.

After the scenario plays out, the linear nature is explained in a way that will stun most players, and the game takes on a new depth that I cannot reveal here without doing one of the biggest spoilers in Call of Cthulhu history.

I will say that I felt mildly annoyed at first when I sorted out the resolution, but I have to be honest and say that if I were a player in this, that annoyance would flare into an admiration for a game well-structured and well played. Not every keeper may want to run this one, and not every keeper could pull it off, but if you can and care to, I think it will be one of those sessions your players will talk about for years. And probably throw something at you on occasion.

Final notations.

Five scenarios, even the weakest is a good scenario, some with possible campaign connections, others definitely geared to one shots. This volume, along with the others in the Cthulhu Britannica series, are available in print copy at the Chaosium website, in pdf at DrvieThruRpg, and at Cubicle 7’s own site, http://www.cubicle7.co.uk/ (my browser tends to load this page very slowly, but it does load) -available in a Print+pdf bundle. At this particular juncture, the London Box set is pending release, and exactly where it will be available and in what formats has not been announced. Backers of the Kickstarter have just received the third book, however, and last I heard, there was at least a tentative November release scheduled. While I plan on covering the others in the Cthulhu Britannica series over time, I will simply state at this point that I highly endorse all of them.

Entry 36: Tatterdemalian, Children of the Yellow Lake, and Tatters of the King(part Three of the Hastur Mashup)

I have isolated the scenarios in the Mashup from other scenarios dealing with Hastur because there is a common thread of them being tied more to the Yellow Sign, and the King in Yellow, that they have a feel for the mystery evoked by that. There are other scenarios involving Hastur, but the bulk of them deal with Hastur more as just a monster to be summoned or avoided, or occasionally about the Unspeakable Promise. Occasionally cultists, in various manifestations, but the Hastur Mashup is a bit different in feel from most of those. As I mentioned earlier, the scenario “Tell me, Have you Seen the Yellow Sign?” and the semi-sequel scenario “Asylum-Return of the Yellow Sign” fit into this mashup, but they have already been covered in earlier reviews. There is are two others that I can think of offhand that first into it, plus the campaign “Tatters of the King.” Before Tatters, however, let’s look at the others.

Tatterdemalion by Richard Watts and Penelope Love (additional text by Kevin A. Ross) is a scenario found in Fatal Experiments, an earlier Chaosium product still available in pdf format from DriveThruRPG, has at least a vague resemblance to parts of the first act of Tatters of the King, but there is enough difference that it is clear that the resemblance owes more to their common source material than anything else. In this case, a theatrical genius whose controversial career had taken a downturn leading to an emotional breakdown discovered the Play while in therapy, and his madness instead of resolving, deepened, along with enough cunning that he managed his release, and threw a party that combined revenge against his imagined oppressors, a performance of the play, and a transition of the mansion where the party occurs into Carcosa. Mystic energies and the mad party-thrower seeks his revenge and draws the surviving partygoers into the madness of Carcosa itself. While the first parts of this play are a good and chilling ride with a feel much like a blend of an old Vincent Price movie along with a slasher film whittling the cast down, the part dealing with Carcosa itself is a bit more ethereal and surreal, leading to a clash with Hastur on the throne that is very difficult, and in my opinion, not the strongest resolution in the various scenarios. In fact, the best resolution to the scenario involves stopping the play before completion, which may be hard to ‘justify to the normal world.’ Taken apart from the others, a good scenario, but compared to the others in the Mashup, I would say this is one to ‘mine’, to take things from to enhance other scenarios.

Children of the Yellow Lake by Carlos Orsi Martinho is a deadly scenario available free online at http://www.epberglund.com/RGttCM/nightscapes/NS08/ns8gam2.htm and the players find themselves in the Brazilian city of Manaus, in 1922. The Play is being prepared, tensions are rising, the local underworld is dealing in a new drug that is linked to Hastur’s influence, and the intelligentsia are at risk. I don’t want to spoil this one, but the cult may seem small in some senses, when you read the scenario at first. But the enemies are deadly, lurking in many places, and the levels of threat are hard to overstate. I like reading it but I’m not sure any group of players I’ve ever ran could get through it intact. But definitely worth the read.

Now, on to Tatters of the King, by Tim Wiseman, is available at Chaosium in print and pdf, and at DrivethruRPG in both formats as well. This is a relatively small campaign (in some senses), but a powerful one, and a party can definitely go through some extreme times with this one. A recent comment on an earlier part of the Hastur Mashup suggested taking the scenarios from Ripples from Carcosa and playing them as interlude/dream sequences (or…are they?) in the (for lack of a better term) calmer portions of this campaign, to give a suggestion of a malleable reality and questions of multiple lives. I do endorse this as much as my earlier suggestions, with the elements of the Mashup, reality can seem very subjective for the player characters.

This campaign opens with a performance of an adaptation of the play in London, with the attendant madness on a relatively smaller scale than we have tended to see in other presentations in the Mashup, but the play does close on opening night. And this is the prologue.

The actual campaign begins with at least one of the party being called in as consultant on the pending release hearings for a mentally disturbed man who has been institutionalized since the somewhat mysterious demise of two of his family members, for which he accepts responsibility, but can offer no explanation. Of course, being Call of Cthulhu, most things aren’t exactly what they seem, and there are some interesting misdirections and red herrings, with some truly nasty villains lurking in the wings.

There is a cult of Hastur about that is trying a complicated means of bringing Carcosa and Hastur both to earth, depending on that madman, and these efforts comprise the first full act of this campaign, in several parts. The players should also learn some hints of the backstory of the villains they deal with, and those hints will in turn lead to acts two and three of the campaign. The action in Act One moves from parts of the British countryside, to London, back and forth a bit, then to Scotland for its resolution, near the town of Cannich (yes, the Cannich from Shadows of Yog Sothoth. Admittedly, possibly with the need of some revision, or substitution of another town altogether if need be)

The version of Carcosa and its manifestation in this scenario is exotic and pleasantly creepy, and composes the climax of this act of the campaign. There are a few strong combat elements, but the bigger danger of player character loss comes from madness in act one, I think. Villains and unexpected allies lurk in the Carcosan shadows, and the party may have to deal with a manifestation of Hastur in a hard-to-beat battle that could very well end the campaign before you can get to the other acts, or at least create a need for a cast of replacement Investigators.

Act Two opens with a minor, primarily off scene character from Act One making an appearance in a London courtroom. An impulsive act of moderate violence and vandalism on his part caused his legal problem. The party is drawn to internal squabbles of a hotbed of cult activity over another entity, Shub Niggurath, and the players are called to help, essentially trying to help the more innocent or lesser of two evils. The party will interact with the ex-wife of one of the Hastur cultists mentioned in Act One, who was not present for all of that mayhem, and thus leads are given that steer the party into act three, if they survive a siege to protect the least hostile element from her competition. Having said that….Act two can actually be minimally dangerous if the party follows the lead of their best contact. If the party gets aggressive and charges into the potential fight, the fight gets deadly, and the party will be hard pressed to get through it intact.

Act Three begins its investigation phase with the party travelling to Milan. The investigation phase is not without some moderate risks and lethality, but the party finds leads that the party will follow to India, and then to Nepal, where the party catches up to the Hastur cultists they have been trailing. This leaves them in a confrontation with Tcho-Tcho tribesmen who are worshipping Chaugnar Faugn, and the scenario then leads to another dimension, an interpretation of Leng (Leng is, I have found, one of the extremely variable places in scenarios, but that suits, since it was never codified in any fiction, either). This leads to an eventual confrontation with Hastur itself which is not combat oriented, but leads to a very rough conclusion.

During this act, you will be interacting with several Hastur cultists, and dealing with major language and cultural barriers until you reach the final stages.

Having said this, this campaign has several brilliant aspects that bear discussion. It is firmly set in the era, and if a Keeper wants to run it in any other time frame, a lot of things have to be rethought, researched and reworked. The British legal system, the Italian government and culture, Indian culture, Nepalese and Tibetan borders and customs all are factors that interact with the flow of the game. Act two does a very nice job of giving a creepy feel very reminiscent of Campbell’s Severn Valley stories, even though if well-roleplayed it is the safest part of the campaign.

So there you go, the Hastur Mashup wraps with us having looked at eight more scenarios, one campaign in three acts, and a tip of the hat to the two scenarios that fit that were already examined.

Hm…Carcosa as a theme park?

Entry 35: Ripples from Carcosa (Part Two of the Hastur Mashup)

This scenario compilation/mini campaign was originally released as a Chaosium Monograph. It has recently been updated to 7th Edition rules and released as a full release, and is available at Chaosium’s web page and at DriveThrurpg’s web site, author credit given to Oscar Rios. Similarly to the Curse of the Yellow Sign series, this is a set of three scenarios, each independent of the others with different settings, and different player characters. Presented as one shots, they could in theory be used as launching points for other campaigns if you wished, particularly in that they use as their settings three of the setting environments for the Call of Cthulhu game, notably Invictus, Dark Ages, and the End Time (more on that later). Also like the Curse of the Yellow Sign series, they are tied into Hastur, the King in Yellow, and to at least some extent, the play “the King in Yellow”. There are some thematic differences between the two collections, however, that are worth a mention before I get into the specific scenarios.

First, unlike the other series, Ripples is closer to the ‘normal’ Call of Cthulhu scenario structure, with possible victories, with the villains being thwarted. Not easily, mind you, but possibly.

Second, these scenarios involve more direct action on the part of cults or individuals who worship Hastur, which are triggering the scenario’s events.

Third, there is a subtext involving reincarnation (of a sort) that is presented as an option to link these more directly, with player characters getting at least vague memories of the characters in earlier scenarios. This is something I have mixed feelings about, to be honest (though a similar theme comes up in another publisher’s ‘cross era’ scenario compilation, so it does bear some consideration. More on this later)

There are also sections regarding the Cult of Hastur in each of the settings, clearly helping set seeds for campaign inclusion.

There are other scenarios involving Hastur, most of which involves cults/cultists treating Hastur as any other greater entity, I am hoping to mention at least one more before I finish the Mashup, but that will wait for part three.

Now, on to the scenarios.

Scenario One: Adventus Regus

Set in the Invictus campaign setting, investigators are sent on a vacation (up to the keeper why) to a resort town frequented by artists. As is often the case in Call of Cthulhu, the timing is not optimal for a peaceful existence, as the players arrive just a day or so before the premiere of a new play by a writer who has been living in this resort for a while. The play, Adventus Regus is recognizable to players and readers as an embryonic form of “the King in Yellow” and the players have a limited chance to learn enough ahead of time to be able to try to minimize the aftermath of the play’s presentation.

This is a well presented scenario, with a nice Roman feel to it, and a climax that is very tough to beat, but is beatable. There is virtually no combat until the climax of the scenario (which is a good thing), and the combats in the climax of the game build in intensity, with a battle of an avatar of Hastur that can be either a cakewalk or a catastrophe fairly easily. I like this scenario, and it stands very good for a one shot, or as part of this set, and as part of the further discussion.

Scenario Two: Herald of the Yellow King

This scenario is set in the Dark Ages setting, ‘somewhere around the year 1080’, with the investigators as servants for a Norman lord in Britain. Cultural insensitivity lead to a good man giving up and making a pact with Hastur, and forces he once fought against become forces he serves, and he spreads “the King in Yellow” as a bardic tale, with ghastly consequences.

Players in this scenario are threading a line between madness and investigation themselves, and if all goes well, they have a chance to make things right for the world at large, but at a great cost. To be honest, I think this scenario is among the best of the type, with subjective reality and changes to the world at large as part of the final resolution.

There is more combat in the earlier parts of this scenario, but the developments are all logical (in context), and the story resolves more through dice-enhanced roleplaying than through a blind conflict (unless the players force the combat option, and usually this is a situation with only small chance for victory)

Scenario Three: Heir to Carcosa

This scenario is set in the End Time setting, with some revisions to the End Time setting itself, as well as some unusual revisions to Hastur mythology per se. The End Times scenario is one of a few future settings available as Monographs, along with Cthulhu Rising, and Once Men. The full background given for this scenario invents some modifications to the setting, modifications that could be made to the other two settings mentioned above if preferred.

For this scenario, a coalition of humans and elder things are living in scattered bases located through the asteroid belt, and interacting with mi go on a reluctant trading basis. A ship is encountered, not part of the coalition, and to protect the coalition’s existence (essentially in hiding from the rest of human civilization at this point) the party seeks out the ship, which appears to have been damaged. The truth behind the damage, and the truth behind the mission this ship had been on is even darker.

Again, we are dealing with a ship’s computer that has gone homicidal, this time on a ship that the player characters have to board, from exposure to secrets of Hastur’s…in this case, information that includes something that could well prove a sequel to “the King in Yellow.” Complicating this, this ship had been crewed by Hastur cultists, and the nature of their ship’s computer is something that will very likely be profoundly disturbing to the investigators when they uncover it. The cult, incidentally, while reduced in numbers, have not been completely eliminated at the beginning of the scenario, and the players will have some combat with human, and other than human, opponents as the scenario unfolds.

Part of the story involves gathering information and a confrontation with their adversary on ship in a virtual environment that lets them encounter the deepest secret of the ship’s computer. The profoundly creepy happy ending possible here will be pleasing and disturbing at the same time.

The greater threat becomes evident when information is uncovered that leads to a confrontation with a major villain and an avatar of Hastur, a climactic battle difficult to win but not unwinnable. I will say that this major villain involves fairly humanlike motivations for Hastur, and an issue of lineage, something I have always personally felt tended to lessen the various greater powers of the Mythos. Setting that aside, I still enjoy the overall setup.

A good and tough scenario, and the conclusion to it can wrap up the implied link of the other Ripples scenario, and can provide a link forward from the End Time setting to other settings, if desired. However, with a bit of work, the background setting for Cthulhu Rising could be used instead. Once men has stages, and this scenario could be inserted into portions of that setting if desired, again, with some work.

Some Ruminations on Curse and Ripples when examined together.

I am left with the question in mind on these two groups of scenarios and I think that an enterprising Keeper with a group who can handle a lot of potentially linked one shots may make a larger ‘mini campaign’ of sorts out of it. You could use either approach, the ‘every scenario separate’ of Curse, or the ‘the same people reincarnated in some matter to face the threat when it rises’ of Ripples. I personally tend to not favor the reincarnation aspect as much, because it implies a fixed fate, something I’ve always resisted, though it is acceptable in game context, I’m less likely to lean towards it.

But you can easily play these in sequence, Aventus Regum, Herald of the Yellow King, Digging for a Dead God, Calling the King, and then we come up on Heir to Carcosa and Archimedes 7 and another question to ponder.

One is inside the solar system, one is in deep space, so the sequenceing is ‘Heir’ then ‘Archimedes’…

But may a Keeper want to look at merging the two? The ‘hidden coalition’ aspect can be removed if necessary. The mechanism behind the computer in Heir can be used, with the mechanism of the computer from Archimedes pretending to be an ally even as it strikes against the players. It would take some work and some personalization, but I find the idea of blending these two scenarios is appealing.

Though admittedly, they’re good enough individually that they can both be run, just be ready for comparisons for the similarities. I would suggest that if you do, make the differences more dramatic, more disconcerting.

Entry 34: Curse of the Yellow Sign, Acts One to Three (Part one of the Hastur Mashup)

This entry and the next, if not at least one more, are going to be breakdowns on Hastur themed releases. I am starting with this trilogy by John Wick because of its unusual approach to gaming.

Hastur is one of the entities who is more likely to be interested and involved directly in human affairs overall, instead of the tendency to malign indifference that most of the greater powers are inclined to show. Along with Nyarlathotep and Y’golonac, these three tend to see humans as playthings as well as potential resources, and have active interest in humanity for its own sake. The backstory of Hastur, the King in Yellow, the play by that name, and all the attendant elements of the play form a backdrop that has caught the interest of many over the years. This set of scenarios by Mr. Wick, along with the Ripples from Carcosa scenario compilation, and the Tatters of the King mini-campaign all form a backdrop of Hastur, specifically through the King in Yellow avatar and the play. I have already reviewed the two appearances of “Tell me Have you Seen the Yellow Sign” and the scenario “Asylum-Return of the Yellow Sign” (Great old Ones compilation for “Tell me” first appearance, and Tales of the Crescent City for the second appearance and “Asylum”), and they definitely fall under this canopy. There are other scenarios involving Hastur, but most of the commercially available ones don’t quite deal with the same aspects as these. On to the Curse series….

These scenarios are presented as though separate stories in a collection of short stories (a comparison that Wick specifically makes), with relatively unconnected storylines, no interactive continuity and separate casts for each story. They are presented as one shots that link by the themes of the Yellow Sign, and Hastur’s indirect influence.

Wick’s approach in these scenarios is very different from most scenarios you will encounter, and warrants examination. These adventures are not challenges to beat, but rather catastrophes to survive. Ultimately, as the scenarios are built, the main interactions are between the player characters as they confront the madness brought on them, and turn on each other in an attempt to endure and escape their situation if possible. The stories are very much sandbox adventures where a minimal setup is presented, the characters placed in the situation and things turns loose. They are also fairly rules light, the scenarios do have antagonists, but not really a monster to fight per se. There are suggestions for staging, including sound files for background soundtracks for each act that are available at his web page. http://johnwickpresents.com/yellow/ Before I go into each act, I will go into an overview of sorts.

First, while the looks of the scenarios are unique and attractive, there are a few flaws in editing, notably in one character sheet’s descriptions to the player, tense changes from second to third indiscriminately, sometimes even in mid sentence, and in the third act, part of the set up contradicts information in a preceding paragraph (a paragraph in the same column on the same page). These are minor issues, and you can pick which interpretation works better for you, but they do make for a jarring read. Another flaw lies in the soundtrack to the first act, which, ironically, is also the soundtrack I like best of the three. It is a soft ambient soundtrack, with the sounds of a jungle, birds and wildlife, trees moving in a light breeze, rain, intermittent barking of dogs (there is a rationale in the scenario for dogs to be present), intermittently broken by the cry of some monstrous creature that does not belong in any earthly jungle. While I like the soundtrack, the scenario has no ‘monster’ per se, so even though I like the sound, it is out of place. The track for Act Two is an odd atonal instrumental track, and while good, is not overwhelmingly special. I tend to think better of ambient sounds than music tracks, even this atonal one. The track for Act Three is a mix of ambient sounds and hints of an instrumental soundtrack through digitally created sounds that could be interpreted at least in part as additional sound effects, and is to me a mixed success. (though this is a matter of personal taste, and sounds are always a minimal issue in my gaming, since I have issues with my hearing)

These three scenarios require players who are willing to ride this roller coaster through, the pcs are all flawed characters to start with, in dangerous situations, and pretty much destined for some degree of madness, with them becoming each other’s…and their own…antagonists. Survival is the goal, but by no means guaranteed. I will say that it is a bit hard to be sure that there are enough triggers for the madness required by the intended game flow. A more traditional minded Keeper may need to add some of their own twists for this, but this is something I highly encourage anyway. But again, the scenarios of Curse of the Yellow Sign are not threats to be beaten, they are to be endured…if possible.

The scenarios deal heavily with the nihilistic philophies that are undercurrents in the Call of Cthulhu game and in Lovecraftian fiction. There is no obligation in any way for players or Keeper to fully subscribe to these philosophies in their own lives to be able to enjoy the scenarios, but awareness of them is very helpful.

Act One: Digging for a Dead God

This scenario is set in 1939, in African jungles (exact location unspecified), the players are soldiers in the army of Nazi Germany, trying to exploit a known but abandoned diamond mine while exploiting local labor in typical Nazi fashion, while at the same time trying to keep a low enough profile to agitate a nearby British outpost. The mine does, however, have hidden depths, as do the player characters themselves, and their mission is far more complicated than most of them can realize, with repercussions none of them can anticipate.

Greed, paranoia, and fear are all parts of these characters lives before they enter the depths of the mine and begin to confront the deeper horrors. They will be coaxed into greater manifestations of their own flaws, and pitted against each other as the story plays out.

For a one shot, this is a wonderful scenario, though I admit I would probably find a way to work a few more mundane threats into the story (including at least one that will likely make that soundtrack file make a bit more sense). This is not a casual scenario, this is not campaign play per se, survival is far from guaranteed. In fact, played well, I think a scenario can be counted as a victory if only one character makes it out of the jungles alive (not necessarily intact). Interpreting that as a victory for the world at large is open for interpretation.

Act Two: Calling the King

This play involves an abandoned hotel in Colorado, moviemakers, the infamous play, and a descent into personal madness inside and outside the play. Almost everyone reading this will immediately catch the thematic backdrop that inspires this scenario’s setting, if nothing else. Jackson and King are well-homaged in this backdrop where a man tries to use the play “the King in Yellow” to affect a desperately needed intervention for a nearly lost love. The instigator of this intervention does not have a clue of the dangers the play actually represents, and the danger he has placed his love, his friends, and himself in.

Old wounds and potential new wounds become key elements in the player characters being drawn into the menace presented here. With their ability to perceive reality warping around them, their own fears and hatreds become their anchor, which leads to a conflict they’ll be hard pressed to survive. A great role playing challenge, and the right Keeper riding herd on the players, this can lead to a great one shot, with a tpk very likely.

One other minor ‘quibble’, there was an announcement in the scenario of different versions of the text for act one of the play to be available on the web site. They were not present, unsure if they had been but were lost over time, but I’ve not been able to find them. The scenario itself has a partial excerpt of the beginning of the play. For any keeper needing more, I can only suggest tracking down a copy of James Blish’s “More Light”, which has a good bit of the text of the play and does present it in an eerie style. This sotry can be found in Chaosium’s “the Hastur Cycle”

Act Three: Archimedes 7

For the third act of Wick’s collection, we enter the deeps of space, as player characters are awakened from cryogenic sleep to discover that in the interstellar space, something Other (guess who) has influenced the ship’s AI and turned it into a homicidal stalker, who wakes up the players as its latest toys in a ghastly version of cat and mouse.

This one is to me a very evocative scenario because ultimately issues of identity are at stake to the point where as the characters’ sanity slips, they learn that their stable personalities are a lie, and the truth of who they were before they ‘became’ the people who woke up is almost as disturbing as their computer software foe. Part of the beauty of this is that as the players roleplay, they begin knowing one thing and slowly learn the other, so the revelations are new to them as they unfold…but depending on their interactions, they may learn a lot of disturbing things from each other before they learn their own truths.

Again, a Keeper may have to tweak this one a bit (I will be going into the tweaks on this scenario when I talk about Ripples from Carcosa, for reasons that will be clearer then, and are apparent already to any who have read both already).

The best resolution for this one is an ambiguous ending with limited hope for half of the players, most likely.

Side note: This scenario has a suggestion for staging that I won’t detail here, but is a little bit metagaming, but is also one of the most effective ways to induce a real scare in a gaming environment I’ve ever heard of.

Epilogue to this entry

So, like a collection of short stories, three different events united thematically, but very different. Each has promise, and how they play out can vary considerably. A Keeper may want to tweak things a bit, they are structured very freeform, and may not be to everyone’s taste, and the ‘survive but don’t beat/win’ approach may be a tough one for Keepers to adapt to, but for one shots, particularly with this set, it is a sweet change of pace. The next review will be about Ripples from Carcosa and go into the overall feeling from these two compilations and an idea or two that I have regarding them, for the right group that can handle a good string of one shots.

These scenarios are available at john’s own page, url above, and at drivethrurpg.com